Womanhood Is Impossible: Part 9,876,948,620,386

So, as we all know, the two most important things a new mother can do are:

1) provide from her own body, Gaia-like, the perfect, natural, unique nourishment for her precious infant that only she can give, the irreplaceable liquid gold that can, to a degree unmatched by any substance made by men, support the immune system, stimulate brain growth, promote emotional security, expel demons, clean those hard-to-reach places, raise your credit score, and guarantee at least a partial scholarship to a state school,

and

2) lose weight.

Note, I don’t say “get thin.” That would be optimal, of course–ideally you would leave the hospital looking like a skeleton wearing a skin suit two sizes too small, with symmetrical breasts pointing straight out like pup tents–but not everyone can achieve that. Besides, if that were the only acceptable standard, mothers would recognize it as absurd and decline to try. But instead, the requirement is “lose weight.” It’s both achievable and impossible. Everyone could always weigh a little less, right? But you are never finished losing weight. Not without a doctor’s note barring you from the arena. Never will a certificate arrive saying, “You have acquitted yourself nobly. You are now Acceptable. You can stop.” I’ve heard an 80-year-old woman complaining that she’s gotta lose these ten pounds. Why??? I wanted to ask. What in your life would be different or better?? But in truth, there is no more reason for me to lose weight than for her to. I am overweight and healthy and comfortably married and no professional obligations requiring thinness such as those of a TV news anchor or spelunker. It’s nice to fit into standard size clothes instead of plus, but it’s not like I have ever invested much, personally or financially, in sartorial self-expression. So what’s the problem with me as I am? Or with you?

Ah but all the knowledge in the world can’t make me wise. This past week I went back to shunning breads and sweets, which is how I always used to eat because carbs make me sleepy and cranky. I abandoned this diet with extreme prejudice during pregnancy because I was already sleepy and cranky all the time and also had no other pleasures available to me. So the last couple weeks, I’ve gone back to it, and my doctor changed one of my medications so now it’s managing my ADD symptoms much better (hey! You might get those baby announcements after all!) but it also suppressed my appetite. Consequently I lost about three pounds in the last week. That put me about 10 pounds higher than my previous highest weight ever, and yet I was thrilled, because it’s not about a number. It’s relative. What matters is to be less. It’s always going to be “be less.”  

Yes I lost three pounds. I’m sure my certificate is in the mail. You know what else happened in the last two weeks, beloveds? My fucking milk supply dropped. I’ve been pumping both boobs for the last hour as I typed to you, hooked up like Bessie the cow, and I have only about seven ounces of milk to show for it. You know what seven ounces of milk will do? Get Benji through a couple of hours. I probably had 60 ounces saved up in the freezer, a whole drawer, and when I came in here all but 10 were gone. By now, my savings is probably even less, judging from the howl I heard from my mother’s room followed by the sound of the microwave. I’ve begun giving him half breastmilk and half formula, but he’s still burning through my supply.

But will I now go back to buttered bread at night and taking my fajitas in a tortilla instead of a plate?

You tell me.

Update: You may have detected some hyperbole in my description of the wonders of breastmilk. That’s because while breastmilk is great for babies, the debatable difference in benefits between breastmilk and modern formula don’t hold a f**king candle to the benefits conferred by having an emotionally and physically well mother. So if you’re struggling, and you know what would help but you think suffering the supposedly optimal thing would be better for your baby, stop. Shake off the stigma, flip off the message boards, buy the formula, take the antidepressants, go back to work, and/or leave your abuser. Babies are emotional sponges and they’re totally tuned into you. Take care of you, if not for yourself, for them. And if you give grief to another woman for her supposedly selfish choices, you get to join all the other sleeper agents of the patriarchy in a special circle of hell I think we, the Snuggledown community, should crowdsource the design of. Maybe you’re waiting for your order at the copy center of an office supply store, but forever. I dunno. You get the point. Suggest things in the comments!

Update 2: The milk reserve is gone.

The Unfinished Sympho-Me

There is no domestic carnage like that wrought by a stir-crazy stay-at-home Mom who has decided to “fix X for once and for all.”

I should know that undertaking any plan that could be described as a “final solution” is a bad idea, and yet, I keep doing it. Worse, I keep beginning new such projects in cascading fashion, leaving an erratic, tornadic trail of devastation in my wake. (Newscaster voice: “Residents tonight are asking themselves, why did she dump out both sock drawers, but leave the underwear drawer untouched? And worse–will she be back?”)

I am fully aware of my tendencies, and yet I tend them anyway. I tend SO HARD. I can be making fun of myself in my head for doing something ridiculous and I still do it! Because I want to! Yesterday, I found my little paws sorting my jewelry, none of which I ever wear, into things to sell, give away, or keep never wearing. Why? Because in the fist few pages of the new issue of Real Simple, the cover of which is this:

Real Simple cover

Ahem, li’l judgy…

 

I saw an anecdote about a woman who was happy she’d done just this–sort, sell, give away. Now, did I read any more of this magazine? Have I read any of the other magazines I subscribed to a few weeks ago when I was in a weird mood and missing work and thought I would do a neat “investigation” of Mom Culture that included reading such magazines and writing about them? Have I mounted the pretty gold magazine holder rack I found a few months ago and leaned against the garage wall sort of obstructing the door so that the inconvenience would remind me to hang it every time I did laundry, aka several times a day?

No. No to everything. No to all.

And how did the jewelry thing go?

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Why yes, that is the Adult ADHD Tool Kit.

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Toby sez, “Even for you, man…”

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“…Even for you.”

So yeah. Failing to finish what I start is a pretty strong trait. Amateurs might need denial to keep performing their sub-optimal behaviors, but us old pros. We can look that flaw right in the face and say, “YUP! That’s me. You nailed it. Nailed… I shouldlearn woodworking!”

It’s important to note that I do not like disorder. It brings me a lot of discomfort, actually. I’m a homebody, and my environment both influences and reflects my state of mind. So I can become calmer and saner by cleaning up, but I can also be deranged a bit by being sunk into a chaotic environment. Chicken and egg are symbiotic. Which means that when I go around tossing my three rooms like a warden at Shawshank, I am both making things worse for my brain and, probably, reflecting a level of disorder already happening upstairs, so to speak.

The madness if not without method. The alternative to chaotic upheaval is an acceptance of the million papercuttish Wrong Things that my eye registers day after day as I wander my three rooms. The magazine rack for example, is a papercut–a little mental wince each time I see it. It’s the home equivalent of a coworker who regularly sighs when you do something, but when you ask what’s wrong, she says, “Nothing….” Imagine your house saying that.

(The flip side of this is that the answer to “what’s wrong?” in this case really is “nothing.” No one else cares if the bathroom remain painted a fleshy pink, dimpled like cellulite and glossy like a cafeteria wall–no one but me. In fact, no one cares that I have repainted the bathroom a deep, luminous blue only as high as I can reach. Blue for a good while and then beige again. This matters to no one. Nothing I do to the house matters. That fact good for my angst over unfinished projects but bad for my general sense of purpose.)

Oh hey, I have to stop now. Maybe I can finish this later. Ha! So thematic!

(sob)

TK

One of the most damaging ideas I ever internalized, and that still has roots so deep and strong that it makes me feel like I’m trying to deny reality when I fight to uproot them, is that there is a life I’m “supposed” to be living, a me I’m “supposed” to be, and I am constantly succeeding or failing at having that life. I obsess about forks big and small: I should have sold that book proposal in 2007 (no, I shouldn’t have; that wasn’t a book I needed to write, just one I could have written, but I want my career to reflect things I really care about) (yes, obviously you should have sold it, there’s nothing about having published one kind of book that makes it impossible to do another kind, no matter what’s “optimal” for the “marketplace,” and besides, what does your book list reflect now? nothing, because no book has been perfect enough, you jag); I should be typing something different with these unknown number of minutes I have during which Benji is satisfied by lying alone in his crib looking at his mobile (make the most of this–which of the million entries you’ve started writing in the last week do you want actually to commit?) (indecision is the stupidest way you could use this time) and so on. I have spent years not doing things because I was sure there was a Right way to do them and I was sure if I just thought about it and worried about it hard enough, I could do them the Right way and, I don’t know, avert disaster, embarrassment, mistakes? Please the gods? You may be saying to yourself, well, everyone does that. No but guys my shit is pathological. I am sitting here hoping the baby will cry so I don’t have to tell you this embarrassing story from college illustrating how pathological.

Omigod he just started whining. That’s hilarious. I can control all things with my mind.

(My mind right now: Why are you writing about your indecision? Why don’t you use this time to go work on one of the two books you’ve done so much research for and will someday look back and say, “Man, I should have just written those”? God you’re dumb.

Me, to my mind: You are a _terrible_ steward of your omnipotence.)

Okay, he chilled out, so long story short, when I was in college, I got obsessed with this young (white) British man who’d grown up in Kenya and become a photographer and kept these very elaborate, beautiful, detailed collage diaries of his travels. Well he and his friends were just dicking around through Africa in a jeep one of the many times they did this and they ran across the victims of the Somali famine which European media hadn’t begun covering yet. He was horrified of course and started working for Reuters and his diaries got much darker, like you’d expect, and then one day some European military force of some kind bombed a house that held a beloved local leader and Dan–that was his name, Dan Eldon–was present and white and, understandably, the horrified and grieving townsfolk stoned him to death. He was almost 22. His mother then compiled his diaries into an art book and published it and I found it when I was home for my Christmas break in December 1998 and folks, I just weren’t the same after that.

 

Oh hey Benji isn’t messing around now. I’ll have to continue this later. But since I promised myself I had to publish whatever I wrote when I wrote it, uh… sorry! To be continued!

Chanel No. 2

Someone made this room smell terrible.

It might have been the baby, the husband, or the cat, but it definitely wasn’t me. And yet I, the only sure innocent, am also the only victim.

Everyone else is sleeping. Some part of their brains must be conscious of this olfactory assault, but, rightly or wrongly, it has been deemed less than life-threatening. So they snooze on, as this rich, full-bodied aroma settles heavily around us like a dewy morning fog. This biotic perfume. This intestinal memory. It’s layered and complex, with a deep, loamy base, sharp, sparkling top notes, and an unsettling tendril of sweetness running through the middle. For a few minutes, it’s all I can smell–or hear, or see, for that matter. A fart so vivid that gives you mild synesthesia. A fart unto itself. A fart for the ages.

Just to be safe, I’m blaming Jeffrey.

 

First Words

I’ve never understood why a baby’s first word is assumed to be “mama” or “dada.” I get that it’s a repeating syllable, but those aren’t even close to being the words he hears most often, and Benji’s babble, which is elaborate in pitch, syllabic diversity and dynamic range, rarely repeats. He doesn’t go “ba ba ba.” He goes, “BeeeeYOOOOOvvvvvvvvvvvv(gutteral monster growl.) BAV! Err, namunbawn-bunnbrrrrrrrrrrr….. GEOWA!”

It’s quite cute. Sometimes it even sounds like he’s said a phrase appropriate to the circumstances, like when he asked the other night, “How’re you?” Which is of course something we ask him a lot. Jeffrey and I looked at each other and back at the baby and I said, “….Fine?” But I’m sure it was accidental. Probably.

I do wonder though if his first word or phrase will be something he’s heard often. If that’s the case, here are some likely candidates.

 

  1. Awww.
  2. I love you.
  3. C’mere, you.
  4. Bless you! (he sneezes a lot)
  5. Who’s my little guy?
  6. That’s okay, I can wash it.
  7. Where’s Benji? (peek-a-boo edition)
  8. Where’s Benji???? (panicked edition)
  9. I’ll be right back. Don’t freak.
  10. I said I’d be right back!
  11. Somebody’s sleepy.
  12. Somebody’s cranky.
  13. Somebody needs to snuggle down.
  14. Somebody needs to come home right this minute.
  15. Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?
  16. No seriously where is your father.
  17. I love you.
  18. Good fart, babe.

T.O.B.B.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve crammed a few lives into this one. So far, by a rough count, motherhood is my sixth. My fifth life, as a journalist, only happened because it took my husband and me five years to get pregnant. (The stamina on that guy!) (I’m sorry, babe.) (Not sorry enough to backspace though.)

It was 2011, I was fresh out of grad school and broke, and I was supposed to be revising a book but instead was reading Le Carré novels and meeting Jeffrey at Subway on his lunch break to hold his hands and cry into my Honey Oat loaf. (So absorbent!) So when I was offered a staff position at the Texas Observer, a venerable news magazine where I’d published culture pieces for years, I accepted. I may not have known anything about anything, but I knew that folks with a fresh MFA don’t turn down steady work (roughly) in their field. The editor assured me I’d figure out how to do hard news, and I did.

But it was rough. The learning curve was exciting, but the content was brutal. I’m an artistic soul. I have written poems about seeing a moth drowned in standing bath water. PoemS. PLURAL. Being a good journalist meant really learning how badly state government and big business treat people who already have it worst, and how nasty, bad, callous, cynical, stupid, negligent, reckless, obdurate, contemptible, ignorant and unrepentant the people who run said government and business really are. It’s hard for me to say that I used to be a journalist because I think it’s like being an alcoholic in some ways. Being that thing changes you in ways that don’t reverse, the temptation to return is always there, and it takes years for your liver to recover. Quantifying the world’s meanness, and getting to know it intimately–not in a big “the president is a dick” way, but like, sitting across from the harm-doers, and then sitting across from the harmed–hurts. I cried every day of that job for the first six months. That’s not an exaggeration. Good days I only cried once. But it was every single day, including weekends. From stress, grief, rage, frustration with my ineptitude, frustration with theirs–every day. I had nightmares every night and woke up every morning drenched in sweat. I lost so much weight from stress that a friend asked in earnest whether I was doing meth. But I stuck with it, and one major reason was that I thought any day now, I would get pregnant and at some point in the process I’d know it was okay to quit. Not okay per anyone else, of course. Okay for me, to me. I would be justified in letting go of the beautiful job that was making me miserable but also teaching me about the world and giving me a chance to help and bringing in my first decent paycheck and giving me a good answer to the question, “What are you up to now?” and, most importantly, staying the hand of the taskmaster in my mind, the one on whose whip is printed, “What are you doing with your life?”

As you can imagine, my friends noticed the toll of all this, and also, they had to deal with hearing about whatever I was working on. So when my editor asked me to come up with a name and subject for a blog, my buddy suggested T.O.B.B., the Texas Observer Baby Blog. It was to be nothing but cute pictures of babies. For perspective. For mental health. Because while ignoring or denying suffering and injustice is an unbalanced way to view the world, so is ignoring kindness and goodness and well-being, the absence of suffering, the prevention of harm, the streets safely crossed, the planes landed without incident, the good dates, the just judges, the bad ideas quietly quashed and lovingkindness manifested out of habit.

So it took five years, but here we are.

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What a nice place to be.